Unhloly heist. Sacrilegious swindle. Capillary crook. The New York Daily News reported the theft of a vial containing traces of the blood of Pope John Paul II (‘pontiff’s plasma’), as a kind of cartoon caper. Presumably to permit the paper’s readers – Guys and Dolls, Native New Yorkers – to live out their lives among the cast of characters in Damon Runyon’s low-life off-Broadway stories.
Containing a shred of cloth stained with the pope’s blood during the failed attempt to assassinate him in 1981, the vial was itself contained in an elaborate package or ‘reliquary’ – half- box, half-holy writ.
(Pope John Paul II died in 2005 to cries of Santo Subito – make him a saint now! He is due to be beatified at the end of April 2014.)
Not a vial but a river of blood between the two sides of the civil war in Syria, now facing each other for ‘peace talks’ in Switzerland. So much blood – leaving aside the not-so-well documented stories of people eating each other. So much certified blood it can’t be easy for them to stay in the same room together: the foreign minister who interrupts the UN secretary general interrupting him because he must, simply must finish his speech; and the opposition spokesman at pains to explain to waiting journalists that the government delegation is guilty of using confrontational language.
Overlooking the unruffled waters of Lake Geneva, at any moment the negotiating chamber may be flooded with blood – a tidal surge of it. The levels keep rising – then falling a little; rising and falling.
Rising into the air above St Peter’s Square two doves, released from the papal balcony by children accompanied by the new pope, were attacked by seagulls and a crow.
Pope Francis, the people’s pontiff, Time’s person of the year, man of his times, though still wearing those spectacles favoured by 1990s German chief execs. He is Papa to us all, allegedly. Raised above the square, he stands for all the Syrian fathers who have not been allowed to be Papa, whose children were ripped and torn out of their arms.
Except that his standing isn’t high enough. Dove of peace? You might as well ask him to remake their civil war as a cartoon caper complete with unholy hostages, scintillating sieges and people’s plasma.
Here’s a heist which the religious vernacular has not managed to pull off – not even with all that papal paraphernalia.